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The International Community Can Help As Pakistan’s Educational System Flounders

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Pakistan’s youth, we are often reminded, constitutes a staggering 64 percent of our population. It’s fortunes buffeted by the ups and downs of military dictatorships and turbulent democratic interludes, Pakistan’s youth continues to face a dangerously uncertain future – which is likely to become the single most important cause of violence and instability in the country.

Currently, the literacy rate of Pakistan is 65 percent, while according to a UNICEF report, 22.8 million children are out of school: representing 44 percent of the country’s total population. Similarly, unemployment rate in the country is 6.2 percent in 2020, which is expected to surge to 9.56 percent for the fiscal year 2020-21. The rate of inflation is 13 percent.

Given these circumstances, in a society like Pakistan, attending university is a dream for most students. Some could not afford high tuition fees, while others are bound by the need to earn money and feed their families. When it comes to the government, the previous two budgets from the PTI-led government have seen a huge cut in the educational budget. In 2019-20 they allocated Rs. 58.50 billion instead of Higher Education Commission’s (HEC) requirement of Rs 103.5 billion.

Ironically, before the 2018 elections, Prime Minister Imran Khan was seen as an ambassador of the youth and a pro-education voice. Few have forgotten that while in opposition, he lambasted then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s development projects across the country. Imran Khan had said on many occasions that “a nation cannot be built with Motorways and Metro Buses, you (the government) have to invest in education”. Sadly, he came to power with a policy of massive educational cuts.

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In the current economic situation, it is possible that the educational system of Pakistan may collapse for all practical purposes. So, the need of the hour is that the international community invest in this country’s educational network – especially in the form of scholarships to Pakistani students and by providing grants to the country’s increasingly cash-starved Higher Education Commission (HEC).

Foreign educational aid may not be able to take the place of the Pakistani state’s own investment, but it could help many Pakistani students and – in doing so – provide some measure of relief from the country’s educational woes.

The only bright spot on the educational horizon has been that Pakistan’s “friend of all seasons” and emerging global power China, in its move to enhance people-to-people contacts between both countries, has been providing Pakistani students some 20,000 scholarships every year for undergraduate, Masters and PhD programs – which is the highest number for any country in the world.

On the other hand, the current superpower, the United States of America, offers a paltry number when compared to China. Similarly, the UK, Germany, Canada, Australia, France, Sweden, etc. have to enhance their scholarship criteria for Pakistani students. Unfortunately, all scholarships that the aforementioned Western countries offer, if combined, do not exceed those offered by China alone.

If the international community fails to assist Pakistan on the educational front, it goes without saying that this society is already wracked by insurgency, religious militancy and extremism. The one thing that can irreversibly damage the security and peace of Pakistan – and the region – is if its youth loses hope and turns ever more towards extremism.

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